While most families in Mexico are setting up for Dia de Muertos…
…here in the Yucatan Peninsula many are preparing their homes for Hanal Pixan!
We’re just a few days away from one of Mexico’s biggest celebrations, Dia de Muertos. Did you check out our blog post last week? (If not, read it HERE.) If you DID read it, then you’ll know that we promised to share some information about Hanal Pixan, a similar celebration that is recognized right here in the Yucatan Peninsula by the Mayan people.
FOOD FOR THE SOULS
While Dia de Muertos is heavily rooted in Aztec culture, the Mayan people also celebrate the lives of their passed family members this time of the year! Hanal Pixan (pronounced ha-nawl peesh-awn and translated to FOOD FOR THE SOULS) is observed from October 31st- the 2nd of November.
Mayans believe the pixan or soul is what forms human life and once the body dies, the soul remains. That the dead are always connected to the living. And on holidays like Hanal Pixan the soul can fully cross over from the afterlife.
Preparation for the celebration begins by cleaning the home and putting up the altar.
Like Dia de Muertos, the altar is the heart of the celebration. By the 31st the altar is set and ready for the souls to come earthside. It is thought that they arrive at midnight and stay into the early morning. They arrive hungry and thirsty, making food and drink offerings necessary.
The altar changes depending on the day. The 31st and into the 1st focus on children who have passed on. The 1st and into the 2nd celebrates the adults. Photos of the loved ones are also placed on the altars, but it is tradition to do so only after the 1 year anniversary of the loved one’s death.
One of the biggest differences in the two celebrations is the food!
During Hanal Pixan, the highly anticipated dish is the Pib (an item that’s cooked underground). The traditional Yucatecan tamal MUCBIPOLLO is the pib of choice and found this time of the year. It is cooked underground over a slow fire, the same way the ancient mayans did. It’s traditionally made with chicken or pork.
Another item specific to Hanal Pixan is TANCHUCUA (similar to atole), a thick drink made from cocoa and corn dough. Altars are also adorned with fruit and vegetables, beer, Xtabentun (a Mayan liqueur), and sweets.
Once the food and drink offerings have been placed on the altar, they cannot be touched by the living until the following day. It’s food for the souls.
One small town in the state of Campeche (located in the western part of the Yucatan Peninsula) has a particularly unique tradition during this time… They still practice the ancient Mayan tradition of cleaning their deceased’s bones.
After 3-5 years of death, the coffin of loved ones are dug up and the bones are extracted and cleaned. After the initial cleaning, they are placed in a small wooden box, rather than a coffin, and stored in a niche. And from every year on, the bones are cleaned on Hanal Pixan.
It is believed that if the ritual does not take place, the spirits will be angry and wander the streets of Pomuch.
Pomuch is the only known village in all of Mexico that continues to practice this tradition. To many, this ritual may seem macabre but to the Mayan people, death is not thought of as an end of life, but rather the start of a different cycle. The cleaning of bones is thought of as a way to honor and respect those who have passed on.
HANAL PIXAN EN MERIDA
Looking to experience a bit of Hanal Pixan for yourself? One great place to go is the cultural capital of the Yucatan- MERIDA!
Like Dia de Muertos, this is a very family-oriented celebration. While it typically takes place in the homes and cemeteries, Merida does offer many events for the general public.
The city is decorated for the celebration and altars can be seen throughout the businesses, especially in the main square.
Two of the biggest celebrations are the Camino de Flores (Road of Flowers) and Paseo de las Animas (Parade of the Souls).
The Camino de Flores
This is held in a main park of Merida and features art displays made with over 60,000 plants and flowers! The event typically starts prior to Hanal Pixan and ends on the 2nd of November.
The Paseo de las Animas
This year, The Paseo de las Animas will be held on Friday the 28th of October. The parade starts in the main cemetery and ends at the Parque San Juan.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
Remember if you are going to partake in activities during Dia de Muertos OR Hanal Pixan, do so with respect. These are very sacred, personal celebrations. As an outsider, do not treat this celebration as a tourist attraction. Sit back, observe, participate when asked. Avoid wearing costumes. This is not Halloween! Be respectful with photos and video- only get footage if you have permission. And most importantly be open and learn about these beautiful practices and traditions.